THE GROUCHY CULTURAL REVIEWS
Freeland, a financial journalist, makes the case that there is alarming income inequality in most countries – but you probably already knew that. She interviews a laundry list of the ultra-rich, determines how these men (almost always men) rose to the top, and speculates on what it all means for “everyone else,” i.e., the 99 percent. Is vast income disparity the inevitable result of capitalism? Is it possible that the wealth chasm is actually a good thing?
Plutocrats documents how the actions of Big Business are benefiting, if not the American middle class, then certainly new middle classes in emerging world markets such as China and India. It’s hard to argue that that’s a bad thing.
But our billionaires and millionaires are not exactly selfless. Many of them, particularly in the United States, feel victimized by government regulation and taxes, and they don’t understand why they are increasingly demonized by the 99 percent. They do contribute to charity, but those contributions treat the symptoms of inequality, not the problem itself.
Freeland doesn’t come right out and say it, but she implies that only government can place checks on Wall Street and corporate America. That might be anathema to conservatives and libertarians, but after events of the past five years, isn’t it common sense to everyone else? Apparently not, for as Freeland writes:“That’s the irony of superstar economics in a democratic age. We all think we can be superstars, but in a winner-take-all economy, there isn’t room for most of us at the top.”
I love Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining – even though the man who wrote the original story, Stephen King, does not. I have never understood King’s disdain for the 1980 film adaptation of his novel. King’s stories, after all, have been bastardized on screen many times (often by King himself), from Sleepwalkers to Thinner to Maximum Overdrive. And yet, this is the movie that rankles him?
But much as I like Kubrick’s movie, my admiration is nothing compared to that of some fans, five of whom describe their Shining obsession in Room 237, a documentary about hidden messages in the film. Or so these people believe.
According to these conspiracy theorists, who have laboriously studied the movie (often frame-by-frame), Kubrick, a meticulous filmmaker, planted subliminal messages throughout his film. The Shining, they say, is an allegory about the Holocaust (look how often the number 42 appears!). Or, The Shining is a commentary on the “white man’s burden” – a burden early Americans relieved by committing genocide against the American Indian (see those cans of Calumet in the background?). But wait: Kubrick is the man who helped the United States government fake footage of the 1969 moon landing, and the evidence is scattered, confessional style, throughout The Shining.
A problem with Room 237 is that there are so many conspiracy theories up for discussion that they tend to cancel each other out. Assuming Kubrick did insert below-the-surface comments about the Holocaust, did he also plant messages about manifest destiny and about Apollo 11? Not likely.
Personally, I was intrigued by the patterns in the carpeting of Kubrick’s Overlook Hotel and their alleged symbolism. On the other hand, if you are going to spot Minotaurs in pictures of snow skiers on the wall, you might as well analyze every other picture on the walls of the Overlook – or every cloud in the sky, for that matter. Wait, someone does analyze the clouds … and spots Kubrick’s “face.”
When I was in college, I took a film class where we studied Hitchcock’s Psycho. I noticed something in a scene in which Norman Bates disposes of evidence by pushing a car into a swamp. As the vehicle sinks, Hitchcock shows a close-up of the license plate, and we can clearly see the letters “NFB.” In my class paper, I speculated that the letters might be a wink from the director to his audience: NFB = Never Find Body. My professor loved this theory and gave my essay an A.
I’m not sure why everything isn’t filmed in New Zealand. Sure, Southern California has nice beaches and nearby mountains and a big city, but … New Zealand – have you looked at pictures of New Zealand?Sundance Channel is airing a seven-part miniseries from director Jane Campion called Top of the Lake, a crime drama filmed in New Zealand. Elisabeth Moss plays a young police detective who, while home visiting her cancer-stricken mother, gets drawn into the case of a missing 12-year-old girl, who also happens to be five-months pregnant.
The plot is a bit familiar (at least through the first three episodes): Robin Griffin (Moss) is basically Clarice Starling, a conscientious cop trying to conduct serious business while battling male-chauvinist colleagues and her own personal demons. When you’re telling an oft-told tale like this one, it helps if your supporting characters add luster. And boy, do the supporting characters add luster to Top of the Lake.Peter Mullan is rough, gruff, tough and – surprisingly – quite funny as the apparent villain, drug lord Matt Mitcham, father of the missing girl and several adult sons with biblical names, if not leanings. Holly Hunter is also in the cast as the spiritual guru of a tribe of middle-aged women living in “Paradise,” a makeshift commune that is, unluckily, located on land that Mitcham considers family territory.
(I’d like to add that David Wenham, as Griffin’s sort-of boss and potential romantic interest, also lends wonderful support to the drama. I’d like to say that, but I have to be honest: With his mumbling delivery and heavy New Zealand accent, I can’t understand a word that Wenham says.)Campion, sharing directing duties with Garth Davis, lets the actors and story proceed at a leisurely pace, but don’t equate “leisurely” with tedious; this mystery takes unexpected turns and has a chilly, pervasive sense of doom. But the real star of the production is New Zealand – the spectacular mountains, hills, and lakes. These stunning vistas put Hollywood, California, to shame. Grade: A-
Directors: Jane Campion, Garth Davis Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Peter Mullan, Thomas M. Wright, Holly Hunter, David Wenham, Jacqueline Joe, Gavin Rutherford, Jay Ryan, Genevieve Lemon, Robyn Malcolm Release: 2013
It’s funny how you can sail through life thinking that you are reasonably well-versed in popular culture, yet be oblivious to certain landmark events (or movies). I lived for 20 years in North Texas, but had never heard of Cynthia Ann Parker, a legendary frontier girl who was abducted by Comanches near Dallas in 1836, and whose kidnapping became the basis for John Ford’s classic western, The Searchers – a movie I have not seen.Frankel’s book is an ambitious attempt to link Parker’s story, Ford’s movie, and America’s tortured racial past, but it’s only somewhat successful. Searchers suffers from the same disease that afflicts so many other historical books: the author’s obligation to include genealogical minutiae of interest primarily to other historians. Yes, I’m intrigued by Cynthia Ann’s tragic life – but please don’t bore me with details about her uncles and aunts.
So what a treat it was to discover Dead End, a bottom-of-the-Walmart-bin gem from 2003. With all of the cheesy, low-budget horror out there, how does a good one like this escape notice?
If you haven’t seen it – I’m guessing not many people have – the story is this: The Harringtons, composed of all-American mom, dad, son Richard, and daughter Marion, along with Marion’s soon-to-be fiancé, Brad, are on a Christmas Eve road trip to grandmother’s house – or so they think. In reality, or perhaps unreality, they are on a road trip to hell. Things begin to go sour when dad stops to offer a lift to a “lady in white,” an ethereal blonde and her baby, who are inexplicably wandering the woods.
The woman is not what she seems, the baby is not what it seems, the road is not what it seems, and before long each Harrington is not what he or she seems.
The plot ventures into horror-film cliché, but Dead End’s wit and comic performances – especially by Ray Wise and Lin Shaye as the bickering, hapless parents – are priceless. It’s inspired lunacy, what you might get if the Bundys from Married … With Children showed up in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Grade: A-
Directors: Jean-Baptiste Andrea, Fabrice Canepa Cast: Ray Wise, Lin Shaye, Mick Cain, Alexandra Holden, Billy Asher, Amber Smith, Karen S. Gregan, Sharon Madden Release: 2003
Watch the Trailer (click here)